Eric Green on the Future of the NHGRI

Eric Green, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH

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0:00 Finishing the human genome is another milestone on a long journey

8:53 The four chapters of human genomics

16:12 How important is genomics in human medicine?

21:33 How do you balance funds between basic and translational research?

28:48 High accuracy, long reads: is there any plan to do larger population studies with higher quality?

34:37 Diversity and equity in the strategic plan

41:02 You tweet a lot! Are you Dr. Genome?

45:03 Is the “gene” obsolete?

Dr. Eric Green has been the Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 2009. Two years ago, he and his colleagues at the Institute came up with a strategic plan for the next ten years. Today we discuss the plan with the director and get his outlook on the future of human genomics.

Dr. Green says human genomics can be roughly divided into four chapters.

"Each chapter has come out of similar strategic planning processes. The first chapter was the human genome project, a very valuable start for the field of genomics. In 2003, we asked what next and we published a plan which was about the first use of this information that was provided by this first genome. Now we had to understand what the 3 billion letters of the genome meant. It was a new era for genomics and it was wide open. That was chapter 2 from 2003 to 2011, and it put us on a solid trajectory to get to the $1,000 genome. We sequenced a lot of people and a lot of animals. Then published in 2011 was the strategic plan for chapter three which would bring us into the clinic where all of a sudden we could see how genomics could be used in a powerful way to understand human disease but also other applications in genomics that would become part of medicine. And right now we are writing the story of chapter four of human genomics."

Though he is hesitant to name the fourth and current chapter ("you never like to write your headline until you've lived it out"), we do tease this out of him: "Making genomics mainstream and equitable in medicine."

Now that we have high accuracy long reads, would Dr. Green like to see larger population studies done with better quality? Where is the NIH at with the All of Us project? And how does the director see his mandate when it comes to balancing between basic and translational research?

On that last question, Dr. Green says being a physician, he may have pushed the translational side heavily, but overall he tries to keep a very diverse portfolio.

"We do not have the best technology for sequencing DNA. They need to be better. We don't want a $1,000 genome, we want a $100 genome, and maybe eventually get a $10 genome. So we want to continue to develop new technologies. And then on top of it, I need to study things in the clinic to see how they work. And the hard part will always be that balancing act. There's never quite enough money. You're just trying to figure out where am I going to get the biggest bang for my buck. And keeping your eye on the landscape because it's not all about NIH. Lots of people are doing genomics research, and what can we do better than others and what should we cede to others to do."

We finish with some personal questions about Dr. Genome, his name among colleagues.